August 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at Leadville 100

by Nick Frey

Bike racing is a very difficult sport…but not for many of the obvious reasons like incredibly hard training, suffering, physical stress, and other aspects which are shared by many endurance pursuits.  Bike racing is tough because of the luck factor.


Luck is that elusive special ingredient which is on the side of every winner of a bike race.  You can hear it when they describe a special turn of events which favored their effort and hurt the effort of a competitor, and luck usually involves some aspect of their bike, be it a flat or a mechanical or a crash or some kind of mishap.


With mountain biking, this is even more important due to the sheer pounding that one’s equipment experiences throughout the course of a serious off-road race.  Leadville is truly a test of man and machine, just as I said in my pre-race post.


Well, the short story is this: luck was not on my side yesterday, but I’m proud to say that I didn’t throw in the towel and I ended up with a big belt buckle and a lot of experience that I can put towards a serious run at the top ten in 2013.





Anyone who followed me on the live feed through Leadville’s website saw that I was in the front group through the first check.  I was freezing cold and the legs were heavy and the stomach was full of breakfast, which is hard to digest above threshold at 10k+ feet…but I was pretty much where I wanted to be after the first decisive split over St. Keevens and Sugarloaf and down Powerline.


Then my rear tire started losing pressure.  I made the call to quickly jump out of the second group in the race, chasing one minute behind Sauser/Alben/others, and burn a CO2.  I figured I’d just burped some air on the gnarly descents to that point and needed a refill.


All was not lost, I was no longer in the group I wanted but I was close to another fast group and was still top-20 at a very early point in the race, with the legs starting to come around…and then I see Bryson Perry and Christopher Sauser and others coming back down the road, full throttle in the opposite direction!  I quickly turn around and jump on their wheel without even asking a question.


As it turns out, we were directed the wrong way on the course by a volunteer, and the top 20 riders had all just ridden two to three miles in the wrong direction and were now reversing and heading back the right way.  Luckily, in this case, I was able to re-group with the very top guys and roll through the Pipeline aid statin essentially in the fastest of the fast groups, the guys who would all ride under seven hours and contend for the overall win.


Then my rear tire started going soft again.  I could not believe my luck, she was simply not on my side.


I had been riding in the front of the group, right behind Sauser, and just pulled off and everyone said their various regards and apologies that Lady Luck was not shining on me, as every racer of any speed has been neglected by her at some point.


I knew I had to use my spare tube at this point, as I only had one CO2 left and I couldn’t risk the tire flatting again before the next neutral aid station almost 15 miles away.  I quickly popped the wheel out, put the tube in, and things setup with the CO2…then realized the valve was too short!!!


I had just a little valve sticking out, and hoped and prayed it would take the CO2, and after it blew out around the rim and onto my hand, extinguishing my last option for a successful repair, a series of profanities flew through my head and I began thinking about how I would get home, race over.


I stood on the side of the trail, bike disassembled, watching a stream of riders flowing by, each of them putting more and more distance between me and my goal of a top-ten finish under seven hours.





As a last resort, just to get back on a riding bicycle, I decided I would try to use my tubeless valve stem as a valve extender for this tube.  Miraculously, it seemed to fit onto the end of the tube’s valve and have a decent seal!


With no CO2 remaining, I had to call out to every passing racer (keeping in mind these are still relatively fast guys in groups racing the event and not wanting to stop and give up their position) for a CO2.  After 30 to 40 riders went by, one guy finally reached into a back pocket and chucked a cartridge into the bushes!  I ran up the trail, found it in the brush, and went back to try my home-brew inflation setup, my last resort for getting out of the woods on saddle instead of foot.


I blew some air into that sucker and it held!  Probably only 12psi went in, but it was enough to ride gingerly…but in the process of pulling the tubeless-valve-stem-turned-extender off, the tube’s presta valve head broke off!  Just my luck 🙂


The ride to the Columbine neutral support station was excruciatingly slow.  I was riding with most of my weight on the front tire, to prevent a rear pinch flat, and cruising behind others in 150th place or so.  From the flat to the Columbine neutral station, I was just riding a bike, I was not racing, and all plans of a top finish were gone from my head…I was lost.





I stopped for a third time, another eight minutes of painless time spent not riding my bike, at the Sram station and luck was finally on my side: they had long-stem 29er tubes!  The mechanic put a tube in the rear, I told him to put it to 45 so I wouldn’t pinch, and I took a spare tube with me.


Then the Leadville Trail 60 commenced: the final 60 miles of the race, when I could actually RACE the whole time.  I decided, just as my good friend Alex Hagman had last year after a horrible flat situation early on, that I would focus on gassing the rest of the course so hard the I could ride myself into a decent finishing time.  If they didn’t have a huge belt buckle available for sub-nine finishers, I am certain I wouldn’t have continued!


I stormed up Columbine, essentially riding on the left just passing passing passing.  I was cross-eyed at the top, 12,6XX feet above sea level, and just staring at the riders coming down who I was with earlier on in the race.  Each rider in front of me became a pole around which I would throw my mental lasso and reel in, one by one by one.


The next 60 miles were a series of short-lived relationships or battles with various riders on various sections of terrain, but overall it was an internal battle–a struggle to forget Lady Luck and focus on what I could control, and that was my Boo and my legs.





After pounding away, uphill, downhill, and sideways, for hours and hours, I made my last catch–a Lifetime Fitness rider who was putting up a serious fight.  He was in my sights from the last mini feedzone at the backside of St. Keevens all the way to the last hills coming into the finish with just two miles to go.


When I finally linked up with him, we rode side-by-side and commiserated on the trials and travails of our respective previous 98 miles of mountain bike racing.  As it turns out, his name is Kimo Seymour and he is the global director of the Leadville Race Series!  On the last little hill just .3mi before the finish, I asked him what time we had and he said we might make it under 7:50, but only if I crushed the last section, so I did…and came in 7:48:25.


I cannot wait to do the race next year, probably racing again for Herbalife–their composite team and family environment is second to none, and their hospitality and generosity is something I can only hope to pay back by racing with Alex Hagman again and both shooting for a top finish.  This is a truly wonderful event, and series, and after I move to Breckenridge you can rest assured I’ll be making many day-trips over Fremont Pass and down into that wacky place at 10,200 feet 🙂